3D Already Dying?

Slate has published a great piece on the decline of 3D, which outlines how the format has gradually been losing its profitability since it re-emerged with Polar Express in 2004.  As thousands of new 3D screens opened up, the profits from 3D screenings have been tapering off, which Daniel Engber surmises, “There’s either too much supply or not enough demand.”

You can read the whole article here.

As I posted in my review of Avatar, the format has yet to create a realistic illusion of a film occupying the same space as the audience, so 3D is just a gimmick to milk your wallet.  The decline in 3D’s profits seems evidence of that realization.

The summer prior to Avatar‘s release I remember theater owners, 3D projectionist salesman, directors, the entire film exhibition industry violently trumpeting the wonders of 3D technology and consistently ducking comparisons to previous 3D fads.  It seems 3D becomes big every 30 years as it came and went in the 1950’s, 80’s, and now the late 2000’s.

If James Cameron finally achieves everything he has promised with his 3D technology, give me a call.  Otherwise, I’ll be keeping my money for 2D.

3D profits per screen versus 2D profits (the red baseline)

(3D glasses image source, charts from the Slate article here)

4 responses to “3D Already Dying?

  1. Dale James Smith

    08.31.10 Tuesday 1513/ 3:13 pm PST

    Dear Remington:

    I found your posting and Engbers’ article both very stimulating.

    I need to say here that “Beowulf” is the only film in 3-D that I have viewed.

    Also, I have not viewed any films via IMAX.

    I want to make five points.

    First, I think that “The Recency Effect” regarding a brand new film, as well as “The Recency Effect” regarding the beginning of “3-D,” factor in towards the alteration of “3-D” issues.

    Second, I believe that to paraphrase Engber’s quote about ‘supply and demand,’ Perhaps “there is too much supply, (‘…And So…’-This parenthetical is my words) not enough demand,” Instead of his quote as “either/or”: “….There’s either too much supply, or, not enough demand.” Both are variable factors–not just one–or, just the other.

    Third, regarding the idea attributed to James Cameron about his alleged repeated warnings that poorly executed films in “2.5-D” ‘could ruin everything,’ If accurate, and if this is not taken out of context (what he was asserting before and after this alleged comment), I wonder just what he means by the “could ruin everything” portion?

    (Third, Part 2)
    I am very leery of people whose comments venture into absolutes (anyone=everyone; anybody =everybody, always/ never, etc.). (“….Only a Sith (Lord) speaks in absolutes….” YODA).
    If the decline in 3-D is accurate or true, it “could ruin (profits/royalties-parentheticals mine) everything “….for James Cameron?! Perhaps he has been asking himself the questions, “What’s In It For Me?” /”How does 3-D Decline Affect Me?”/How can I influence this to increase or maximize my own advantage?”
    Does Cameron complain when he makes a deposit or withdrawal from his Bank Account? Just admit you don’t like something, Cameron–‘The sky is falling’ talk is ludicrous hyperbole!

    Fourth, regarding theater ticket costs, Engber seems to beg the question that (at least some) people must buy higher-priced theater tickets. The question that I ask myself here is,”Why should I pay ‘full price’ for a theater ticket? And, why should I pay an additional surcharge for “3-D” that may not actually be that much better than 2-D?

    (Fourth, Part 2)
    While something different can be/may be better, just because it is different/ new, I do not automatically assume that the new (3-D ‘Recency Effect’) must be better/ has to be better, just because someone else says so, or, because someone else thinks so (Ad/Marketing: “Create the Need.”)

    Fifth and last, I wonder if Engber dislikes some possibly valid critiques and assessments of the “3-D” concerns and issues? Or, does he disagree with some of them.
    Frankly, he loses credibility with me for conveniently placing labels of ‘curmudgeon’ and describing dislikes and disagreements as ‘bellyaching,’
    This term relates to the age(s) of some people, whether Engber knows it, or not. I will not engage in commenting on someone else’s possibly younger or older ages. Perhaps Engber should refrain from engaging in Ageism–What people say should not be judged regarding something people cannot change: their chronological age.

    Remington, thank you for your thoughtful and astute posting. I greatly enjoyed it!

  2. I don’t find Engber’s analysis very persuasive. He doesn’t sufficiently address consumer ignorance as a driver of the downturn (he mentions having 3D in the title, but just hand-waives it away), nor does he really talk about profitability being lower for some films because they’re shitty, or have big drop-offs after opening weekend due to negative word of mouth.

    There’s a ton of nuance to be had in this discussion. How many ticket-buyers don’t know you can see TS3 in 3D? Are the box office returns for certain movies lower because of the 3D, or because they’re horrifically bad films that have been met with near-unanimous derision (The Last Airbender, Clash of the Titans, Kitty Galore)? What about mediocre movies that have great 3D (Avatar)? What about great movies with mediocre 3D?

  3. I can’t speak for everyone, but I feel like the marketing departments have promoted the hell out of 3D, with more people probably being surprised by a film that’s not in 3D.

    Plus, when you go to buy tickets for a film, you decide if you’re paying extra for 3D or pay less with 2D, so you’re going to be aware of each 3D film available.

    What’s most noteworthy about the analysis is that even though Avatar made money like a mad man, it still didn’t offer the same rate of return as Polar Express. He of course points out that there are now more 3D screens to spread the wealth, but as he comments, exhibitors were saying that money was being lost because there were too few 3D screens and now there may be too many.

    Maybe I am confusing your argument because at first I thought you were arguing that there hasn’t been a decline in 3D sales, but now I realize (maybe) that you’re trying to identify all the variables that may be suspect.

    I definitely agree that there haven’t been as many films actually made in 3D compared to this conversion scheme that made Clash of the Titans look terrible. However, I do believe that it is merely a trend and that even if there were good films with 3D, it isn’t a strong enough experience to merit an extra $3. When I saw Avatar the 3D effect eventually wore off and didn’t make a lasting impression. 3D technology isn’t as great as it’s made out to be and I think more people, as they see various 3D films, are starting to see past the hype.

  4. Perhaps..

    My experience has been a bit different. I saw Up and Avatar in 3D, and would’ve gladly paid a couple extra bucks for it – I felt that both were intensely enjoyable to look at with the stereo projection. A lasting impression, for me, for sure. Now of course, alot of the visual beauty of Up will still be there if I get it on Bluray or whatever, and much of that film’s appeal is its surprising emotional impact. But with Avatar, my enjoyment came almost exclusively because of the tech and 3D, and I can’t imagine spending my money to see it at home or in 2D – all the enjoyment for my buck would be gone, unless I was watching it with a RiffTrax.

    But to clarify where I’m sitting… I don’t think his graphs show a decline in sales – they’re all graphs of a decline in profitability, right? I’m not arguing that we can’t see the downward trend, I’m saying that pinpointing it just on 3D isn’t warranted by his argument. There’s a host of influencing reasons or causes, some of which I mentioned, and we haven’t even gone outside-the-industry for other factors, like the economy.

    Lastly, to address your point of view and experience with knowing movies are in 3D because of deciding on your ticket price:

    I think you’re right, when it comes to folks like you and me, but I’m not convinced that it’s true of the wider audience of movie-goers. Anecdotaly, every time I see movies with friends, the ONE thing they look at to decide which ticket to buy is the screening time. They don’t notice that they have an option of projection (digital or not), they don’t tend to notice “Director’s Hall” or premium screens, they just pick the time they want and will then pay whatever the box office asks for that screening. If I don’t point out the options available or voice my preference, we’d just get tickets for whatever preferred screening time they have and swipe our plastic. So I really do think it’s possible to make the case that alot of people have no idea that certain movies are in 3D if they don’t put that big stupid “3D!” in the title.

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